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Ashenden: A Novel Hardcover – January 8, 2013

3.7 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Julian Fellowes's Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
"Julian Fellowes's Belgravia" by Julian Fellowes
From the creator and writer of Downton Abbey comes a grand historical novel, with hugely exciting twists and dramatic chapter endings. Learn more | See author page
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This is the story of a house. When British siblings Charlie and Ros learn they have inherited Ashenden, one of the finest late Palladian houses in the country, from their aunt, they are faced with a dilemma. Repair and upkeep would be prohibitively expensive, and the National Trust isn’t interested, having shifted its priorities. What to do? Following this preamble, Wilhide leads the reader back more than 230 years to the arrival by barge of the fine Bath stone that will be used to renovate an old manor house in Berkshire. Succeeding chapters trace the house’s history as the fortunes of its different owners rise and fall. As Wilhide notes in her acknowledgments, Ashenden is modeled on a real house (used in a recent Jane Austen film adaptation), which, instead of staying in the same family for generations, mirrored the times through its ups and downs. Continuity comes from the fact Ashenden endures. Readers intrigued by English country houses will enjoy this stately home tour, given from a variety of perspectives, both upstairs and down. --Mary Ellen Quinn


"This beautifully written debut novel takes us on a moving pilgrimage through the ups and downs of human nature, all within the walls of a historic English mansion....With its top-notch writing, strong character development, and excellent plot, this will be on the ...list of Downton Abbey fans, historical fiction readers, and family saga buffs." (Library Journal, starred review)

"Engaging....A carefully crafted, touching historical that achieves exactly the right note of rewarding readability." (Kirkus Reviews)

"Delightful...The beauty of Ashenden lies in the interwoven tales that move us carefully through the years at irregular intervals, giving us intimate glimpses into not only the people who occupied the house but inside the heart of the very building itself...well-written and vivid...thoroughly engrossing." (Historical Novels Review, Editor's Choice)

"Memorable, affecting....as beautifully constructed and lovingly adorned as its stately namesake." (Romantic Times)

"We are reminded of Brideshead Revisited...well observed." (Times Literary Supplement)

"Ashenden is an engrossing debut by one of Britain's leading writers on design and interiors. This book is a sparkling jewel: full of fascinating detail, high drama and sly wit."—Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire and A World on Fire

“I adored this book; I saw it as a sort of love letter to a vanished way of life, and a slice of English history at the same time, tracing as it does the lives of all the people who lived in Ashenden, a beautiful English country house, for over two hundred years. It's very touching and very compelling.”—Penny Vincenzi, author of Another Woman

“A pleasurably subtle web of connections . . . a beguilingly effortless read.” (Daily Mail)

“An affecting, intelligent debut.” (The Guardian)

“Rich and absorbing . . . personalities are sharpened by Wilhide’s fine ear for dialogue and her wry sense of humor. The novel’s real value lies in its detail, the patches of finely embroidered description, and in its subtle observation of behavior and tastes.” (Financial Times)

"A panoramic view of family life . . . any reader who loves history and houses will enjoy this verbal magic lantern show."—Charlotte Moore, author of Hancox: A House and a Family

"A mixture of short stories about the people who admired the grand house, found love and heartbreak inside its walls, and recovered in the green expanse that was part of the property....Elizabeth Wilhide smoothly moves the story along while it remains in place at the same time. It's a very effective way to tell the story of the house and make it more than simply a structure of bricks, glass, and wood. It becomes a living part of the story and, in fact, the story itself....a lovely story and a satisfying read." (Bookreporter.com)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First American Edition edition (January 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781451684865
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451684865
  • ASIN: 145168486X
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,007,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. Jamison on March 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I love books about houses, I really do. But this one missed the boat. It was slow and nothing happened after the first chapter that made me want to continue reading. There was too much detail about rocks, soil, characters who disappeared in the next chapter. It just didn't move. If there had been more action and less description, I would have kept on with it. Also, with the terms the author used I couldn't get a picture of what Ashenden looked like. A builder of houses would appreciate all the descriptions, but I thought it would be more about the people who lived there. Each chapter which brought the story forward was too short to get to know and care about the characters, and since it was time-skipping, they weren't heard from again. I went thru every page all the way to the end of the book and mostly it was page after page of discriptive text and little dialogue.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My fault.. I didn't like this book, it was a collection of vignettes about people who lived in the house, I knew that when I bought it, but I did expect there to be a flow, a thread, continuity, warmth and I didn't find any here... just a joyless collection of unhappy stories... Sorry Ms. Wilhide
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Format: Hardcover
Wilhide captures history through the changing residents of an estate in Berkshire built in 1775, Ashenden Park. From its inception by architect James Woods for its first owner, the wealthy and particular Sir Frederick More, each aspect of the estate is meticulously planned, the grand estate not only reflecting each era of society, but the nature of ownership as time and politics shape the country. In 2012 Charlie Minton, 57, and his sister, Ros, heirs to the estate through their elderly aunt, Reggie Lyell, agonize whether to sell the worn but still imposing estate or attempt a massive repair project to restore its former glory. The place speaks to them through its grandeur and details, the many lives etched into the worn stone and peeling wallpaper, the more opulent days of the dreams of those who have lived there. It is the life imbued in these very walls that Wilhide explores as Charlie and Ros grapple with their dilemma in search of an acceptable solution.

Ashenden Park takes hold of the imagination through the power of its architecture, its sheer size enhanced by the evolution of a unique history played out by various residents, from the entitled wealthy to the servants who keep everything running smoothly, a sort of generational "Upstairs/Downstairs" until war intervenes (the devastation of both WWI and WWII), altering the use of the estate and its fate in the ensuing years. The edifice takes on the characteristics of the country, defined by particular personalities, social mores and political conditions and the affections (or careless abuse) of each new owner as the years pass, some connected by blood, other by village ties and working families.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a delightfully written novel about 240 years in the life of an English country house. All Anglophiles and Downton Abbey fans (which are usually one and the same!) will love it too.

Ashenden starts off in present day England with brother Charlie and sister Ros, who have inherited Ashenden from their aunt. Suddenly met with the enormous financial burden the house brings with it, but also intrigued by the prospect of perhaps keeping it, the brother and sister are at odds over what to do with it. While we wonder about the fate of Ashenden, we are taken back in time with a fluid interwoven storyline as we get to meet the people who inhabit the house.

I love how every chapter represents a different historical period and presents an intriguing vignette. Loved this book and looking forward to whatever else this author has in store for us!
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Format: Hardcover
It's funny how a book can sometimes find you during just the right set of days. I usually read one book a week and end up starting a new one over the weekend. Last Sunday, having finished all of the available books in Phillip Rock's "Passing Bells" trilogy and craving more books along the lines of "big English country house" stories, I remembered that I had an advance e-galley of yet another book marketed to Downton Abbey lovers.

As much as I love Downton Abbey, the comparison to Ashenden isn't fair and I suspect will lead many readers to underestimate and even pass over this gorgeously written novel-in-stories. The novel begins quite slowly with the rather-underwritten brother and sister Charlie and Ros who have just inherited the over two hundred year-old house from their childless aunt. I actually started this book a few months ago when I first received it and didn't continue due to my disinterest in the first chapter. Fortunately, I pressed on this time around and got to the second chapter that goes back to the construction of the house in 1775. I expected a kind of Edward Rutherfurd gallop across history but instead felt as though I was reading a very good collection of short stories, all loosely linked by place and poetic connections across time.

Wilhide wisely doesn't overdo the genealogical connections between stories, breaking up the ownership of the house while subtly alluding to the passage of time and generations. The main treat here is the beautiful writing, each story somehow capturing the language of each time from 1775 to 1844 to 1909 to 1976. The stories are a good combination of bitter and sweet and have a breathtaking sense of the passage of time and both the permanence and impermenance of life.
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